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Gore gives presidential events a trial run

March 17, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Wrapping up his St. Patrick’s Day speech, Irish Prime Minister John Bruton grabbed a bowl of shamrocks, looked Al Gore in the eyes and declared, ``On that note, Mr. President. ...″

Bruton quickly corrected himself and called Gore ``Mr. VICE president.″ But it was that kind of day for Gore, the earnest No. 2 filling in for his hobbled boss on Monday.

Call it a trial run of sorts.

Three days after knee surgery, President Clinton was conducting high-level private meetings at the White House. Still, the lame limb limited Clinton’s activity. So the vice president, who hopes to succeed Clinton in 2001, inherited a presidential public schedule that included ticklish political and diplomatic issues.

It started early, with the announcement of a presidential commission to whip up support for campaign finance reform. Gore announced that Clinton had appointed former Vice President Walter Mondale and former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker, R-Kansas, to head the panel.

The subject is a delicate one at the White House, given mounting questions about the role Clinton and Gore played in 1996 fund raising. Gore’s squeaky clean image has been touched by revelations that he solicited campaign donations by telephone from his White House office.

Standing before reporters in the White House foyer, Gore faced the problem with humor. ``We have unprecedented public focus″ on the need for reform, Gore said. Then he added with a chuckle: ``I can bear personal testimony to that.″

In contrast to his sometimes-loquacious boss, Gore deftly avoided follow-up questions by pivoting on his heels and leaving the room as soon as the ceremony ended.

Gore later took Clinton’s place at the traditional St. Patrick’s Day ceremony with Bruton. Normally a lighthearted affair designed to give the president a holiday photo opportunity, White House foreign policy advisers had more in mind this year: Clinton was supposed to suggest that Britain allow Sinn Fein into peace talks if the IRA ends its violence.

The task was left to Gore.

``Let me say on behalf of President Clinton and the United States of America that we have the absolute conviction and certainty that should the IRA declare a cease-fire, then Sinn Fein would be invited to participate in the talks,″ he said.

Gore acknowledged that this is a touchy issue for Britain, but he urged London to find a way to express flexibility on the matter. ``How that expression comes from others is for them to decide,″ Gore said.

White House press secretary Mike McCurry said Gore will continue to help pick up the slack in Clinton’s restricted schedule. ``He’ll be filling in a lot,″ the spokesman said.

An Irish reporter asked Gore if he was visiting Ireland. Taken aback by the unexpected invitation, Gore hesitated. ``I’d certainly love to,″ he said. ``You trying to broker an invitation for me?″

``May I intervene and invite the vice president to come this year,″ Bruton said, before adding a sentiment that reflected Gore’s entire day: ``Now you’re on the spot.″

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